2014 Cadillac ELR: What was GM thinking?

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Four years after it debuted as a concept vehicle at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the 2014 Cadillac ELR hybrid was released to the public as General Motors’ latest effort to make its large powerful machines environmentally viable.

From its long reputation as a big car acquired only after achieving big success (or to at least give that impression), Cadillac has steadily tried to re-position itself.

There may still be older consumers who buy Cadillacs because their fathers and grandfathers did. But what exactly is the target market for potential buyers of the Cadillac ELR?

The Cadillac ELR is plush and powerful, but it’s also a plug-in hybrid that, at first glance, and maybe even after a longer look, seems like an automotive oxymoron.

The luxury coupe still pays homage to the Cadillac cruisers of yesteryear. It’s a fine open road comfort car with top-flight leather and even some carbon fiber mixed into the door panels for additional interior styling fashion points, if that’s your thing.

The exterior is all sharp, bold angles and sweeping lines, and there are Cadillac’s signature vertical lights. Twenty-inch wheels are standard. There’s a flush front grille that looks like a big mouth full of silver teeth. And for some additional style points, there are concealed door handles.

The Weekly Driver’s Test Drive

As a plug-in hybrid, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given the Cadillac ELR a total range of 340 miles, including an all-electric range of 37 miles. Top speed is 106 mph.

During my weekly test drive, I drove entirely in gas mode and never attempted to use the included 120-volt travel charger, which Cadillac cites as 12 1/2 to 18 hour process via a standard home electrical outlet. If using a 240-volt charging station, the advertised charging session is reduced to five hours.

The 2014 ELR has a 1.4-liter gasoline-powered generator, a 16.5 kWh lithium ion battery pack, and a 154 kW electric motor. The ELR can accelerate from 0-60 mph in about eight seconds, slightly slower than the touted effort of a Lexus ES 300h hybrid.

The hybrid-electric drivetrain can be optimized for peak efficiency or performance via four driver selectable modes: Tour (normal), Sport, Mountain, and Hold, which stores remaining energy in the battery for later use.

Driving the Cadillac ELR was all power and comfort. It’s what Cadillac does best. The front seats are ideally supportive, but access to the tighter back seats requires and good degree of flexibility and then there’s not much legroom of headroom. Yes, the Cadillac ELR is a coupe, but the trunk still seemed small.

The Cadillac ELR has an expansive list of features, and it should. The base price is $75,000. The package-loaded model I drove pushed the price to more than $81,000 after the luxury package, specially tinted painted and destination charge.

Standard features include: forward collision alert, lane departure warning, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, a safety alert seat, Cadillac’s OnStar telematics system, heated side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth, a 10-speaker Bose audio system, Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system, navigation, satellite radio, three USB ports, an auxiliary audio jack, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel.

The ELR has leather seats, automatic high beams, automatic collision preparation (which can apply the brakes if the system senses the car might hit the car in front), rear cross traffic alert and blind zone alert. These are all wondrous advances in safety.

High-end materials, smooth cruising down the road and complete comfort aside, I kept wondering: Who is going to buy the Cadillac ELR?

Is this an attractive car for the commuter who drives a few miles each way to work? It seems excessive for that. The smaller Chevy Volt or several other competitors are better choices.

The Cadillac ELR isn’t really so much different than its older cousins and is thus finely suited as a cruiser. That seems ideal. If so, then the plug-in electric mode seems like an afterthought, a consolation of political correctness to the ever-changing automotive industry.

Likes:

High-end interior materials.

Superior comfort.

Powerful, confident acceleration.

Safety features are top-notch.

Dislikes:

Sliding controls for radio volume, air conditioning, etc., require a lot of finesse.

Small trunk.

Facts & Figures: 2014 Cadillac ELR

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 7.8 seconds.
Airbags: 8.
Fuel economy: 85 mpg (city) 80 mpg (highway) in electric mpg-equivalent mode, 31/35 mpg in hybrid mode with six-speed automatic transmission.
Horsepower: 181.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $75,000.
Manufacturer’s Web site: www.cadillac.com.
Price As tested: $81,135.
Warranty: Bumper-to-bumper, 6 years/79,000 miles; Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Electric battery, 8 years/100,000 miles

What Others Say:

“As a plug-in hybrid luxury coupe, the ELR is something unique in the market. And as pure automotive sculpture, it’s utterly gorgeous. But it doesn’t push the technological frontier forward or deliver the sheer driving joy that has made new Cadillacs such as the ATS and CTS so compelling. And that’s frustrating.” — Car and Driver.

“Sure, the engine coarseness in extended range won’t bother you much if your sphere of operation keeps you within the EV range. Volt owners do it all the time. But this car costs twice as much. The beauty of a plug-in hybrid is you can drive it anywhere, but if you fork over this much you want to enjoy yourself every mile. The 2014 Cadillac ELR seems to shed half its price and sophistication when the motor kicks in.” — Edmunds.

“At $75,995, the ELR has been boldly priced to compete not only with the Tesla Model S but also German coupes like the BMW 6-series and the Mercedes-Benz E- and CLS-classes. As stylish as the 2014 Cadillac ELR is both inside and out, it’s keeping very tough company.” — Automobile Magazine.

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“Several years ago, Cadillac debuted a Escalade hybrid. And now a Cadillac ELR plug-in? Just whom is GM trying to fool here? Big powerful Cadillacs are still great, if you like that sort of thing. But they should never be mistaken as “green” cars.” What was GM thinking?”

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2 thoughts on “2014 Cadillac ELR: What was GM thinking?”

    • I do not believe Cadillac describes the ELR’s gas engine as its back-up engine.
      I stated that I didn’t test the electric engine. That’s not “worthless.” It’s called disclosure.
      My job is to write an opinion. If you’ve driven the ELR’s in electric engine mode, I’d like to hear your opinion.

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